This week on TCM Underground: The Hunger (1983)

hunger

Vampires smoke cigarettes in New York City.

Cast: Catherine Deneuve (Miriam Blaylock), David Bowie (John Blaylock), Susan Sarandon (Dr. Sarah Roberts), Cliff DeYoung (Tom Haver), Beth Ehlers (Alice Cavender), Dan Hedaya (Lt. Allegrezza), Suzanne Bertish (Phyllis), James Aubrey (Ron), Rufus Collins (Charlie Humphries), Ann Magnuson (Club Girl), John Stephen Hill (Club Boy), Shane Rimmer (Arthur Jelinek), Bessie Love (Lillybelle), John Pankow (First Youth at Phone Booth), Willem Dafoe (Second Youth at Phone Booth), Sophie Ward (Girl in London House). Director: Tony Scott. Producer: Richard Shepherd. Screenplay: Ivan Davis, Michael Thomas. Cinematography: Stephen Goldblatt. Music: Denyy Yaeger, Michel Rubini. Make-up Illusions: Dick Smith.

Color – 97 min.

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Beware! Louis Jourdan is Here

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Louis Jourdan in COUNT DRACULA (1977)

We lost Louis Jourdan on Valentine’s Day and since then there has been an abundance of considerate obituaries and tributes to the debonair French actor who stole film fan’s hearts and swept many of his leading ladies off their feet. Jourdan was strikingly handsome but I’ve always found him a bit intimidating on screen. In real life Jourdan had fought Nazis as an active member of the French resistance and by most accounts was a loyal husband to his wife (Berthe Frédérique “Quique”) for 68 years until her death in 2014 but something about his smoldering intensity and somber eyes made me uneasy. The characters he played were often hard to read and I found myself constantly questioning their motives. This is undoubtedly due to his exceptional performances in films such as LETTER FROM AN UKNOWN WOMAN (1948) where he plays a self-absorbed pianist who breaks Joan Fontaine’s heart and THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1959) where he drives the gorgeous Suzy Parker mad with jealousy or JULIE (1956) where he stalks and terrorizes poor Doris Day. In retrospect Jourdan was incredibly apt at portraying men with questionable motives and he had a viper-like way of honing in on naive young women who became easy prey. It doesn’t surprise me that he eventually ended up playing a comic-book villain in SWAMPTHING (1982) and a James Bond baddie in OCTOPUSSY (1983). But if I had to select his most fearsome role I’d single out Jourdan’s outstanding turn as the infamous bloodsucking Count in COUNT DRACULA (1977).

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The Movies That Never Stood a Chance

TCM wraps up 31 Days of Oscar tomorrow night, one day after the Oscars themselves run tonight.  Soon the newest Best Picture Oscar will be handed out and already there are plenty of critics and bloggers making lists ranking the best and worst Best Pictures in history.  But this year’s crop of nominees got me to thinking about something else.  With a science fiction movie among the front runners for Best Picture (Gravity), something that rarely happens, I began thinking of all the science fiction, action-adventure, fantasy, horror movies that I love that could have taken Best Picture except for the pesky little fact that almost none were ever nominated in the first place.  I shall restrict myself, as I often do on these lists, to movies from the thirties (starting with 1931), the decade when, had the Academy nominated or awarded these movies, a quite different precedent would have been set allowing for richer competition in the years to come.  But they didn’t.  From the start, they made it clear that Best Picture pretty much meant “Genre Pictures Need Not Apply.”

Frankenstein

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When The Exotic Became Commonplace

Late tonight on TCM, in the early morning hours of tomorrow, three movies back to back to back, Trader Horn, Malaya and Macao, feature what were once exotic, unknown locales.   Trader Horn is the most famous of the three but still has no official release on DVD, possibly due to the story elements of the time that make for some seriously uncomfortable viewing today.  That is to say, the African tribes are portrayed as primitive savages and the white girl they kidnapped as a child is now worshiped as a white goddess.   But wait, it gets better (by which I mean, worse).  Animals like lions were mistreated, starved to make them attack hyenas and members of the cast and crew got sick and two of them even died.  So, yeah, the whole thing feels kind of dirty at this point but it’s a record of those attitudes and methods and, frankly, I always recommend watching things like that because it’s an undeniably important artifact for the very reason it’s also rather distasteful.   But here’s what you don’t need to see it for: The exotic locations.  Why?  They’re not exotic anymore.

Poster - Trader Horn

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Son of Dracula’s Daughter!

As the boxer Sonny Liston used to say, “Life a funny thing.” If you squint real hard you can see, to the right of Robert Osborne and below the goldenrod banner that reads “Movie Morlocks Bloggers,” my name and the movie title DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936). I’ll be introducing the film tonight on TCM, sitting right there in the red chair, like you see all sorts of famous people do, and talking Universal horror and vampire movies, and gesturing with my hands, like an Italian. I was one of four Movie Morlocks chosen earlier this year to represent the writers for the TCM blog as official guest programmers, each of us charged with picking a movie that means the most to us. It wasn’t a hard choice on my part. Tonight’s broadcast completes a circuit that sparked for me nearly 40 years ago, when I was a young weirdo of 12 or so, late night TV showed tons of old movies, and life still held no end of boundless mystery. [...MORE]

The Sinister Charm of Simon Ward

One of the strangest aspects of today’s Internet film culture is being bombarded by death notices week after week. No one’s life is unworthy of celebration and onetime television TV actors with a single role under the belt often compete with Oscar winning movie stars for attention after they’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. In the flood of online wakes that seem to accumulate around every actor’s death it has become nearly impossible to overlook anyone’s passing so you can imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that one of my favorite British actors, the talented Simon Ward, had passed away in July following a long illness and I had managed to overlook it. Even more depressing were some of the obituaries I read that glossed over much of his career and seemed to suggest that Ward hadn’t lived up to his potential while completely ignoring his outstanding contributions to horror cinema. Naturally I felt the urge to rectify this since I had grown up admiring the actor in a bundle of praiseworthy thrillers so October seemed like the perfect month to spotlight Simon Ward’s contribution to a genre that continues to divide critics and audiences.

Simon Ward was born on October 16th, 1941. At age 13 he joined London’s National Youth Theater and continued to study at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts,). He started acting in British television productions in the mid-1960s and after taking an unaccredited role in Lindsay Anderson’s IF…. (1967), Ward was offered his first major film role in David Greene’s exceptional British thriller, I START COUNTING (1969). Ward’s boyish good looks and edgy screen presence allowed him to effortlessly transform himself into seductive villains as well as romantic heroes but his chameleon-like abilities may have confused producers who couldn’t easily pigeonhole him and didn’t seem to know how to harness his talent. Simon Ward went on to appear in many popular and critically acclaimed films including YOUNG CHURCHILL (1972), THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973), THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974) and ZULU DAWN (1979) but throughout his career he returned again and again to the horror genre. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the best horror films and thrillers he appeared in.

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Natural or Supernatural? Name Your Poison

Movie genres are notoriously malleable things.  We all know what a western is until someone mentions that Star Wars is a horse opera in space or Outland is a remake of High Noon in a futuristic setting, and suddenly it doesn’t seem as clear anymore.  Genres also cross streams constantly.  A crime film can be a noir (Out of the Past), an epic drama (Once Upon a Time in America), a gangster film (Public Enemy), a comedy (Some Like it Hot, which also manages to work in rom-com while it’s at it) or any other number of multiple genre mash-ups with “crime” as the umbrella covering all the different subsets.  In the end, horror is no different but no matter how many subgenres of horror there are (and there are plenty), horror can be efficiently broken down into two categories: Natural and Supernatural.  Which side are you on?

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Horror’s Powers of Ten

I have always had a fascination with how much can change in such a short span of time in one era, yet remained unchanged for years in another.  In 1973, American Graffiti presented a nostalgic past that no longer existed, a world from another time and place.  It took place a mere 11 years prior to its release.  11 years.  A movie taking place in 2001 or 02 wouldn’t look or feel that much different to what’s around us now.   Watching a sitcom from early in the 2000s, like Arrested Development, doesn’t look or feel a whole lot different than watching one from right now, like Parks and Recreation.  But watching Leave it to Beaver, from the early sixties, alongside All in the Family, from the early seventies, feels like two different universes.   How much has horror changed from one decade to the next?  Let’s examine horror’s powers of ten.*

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I like big bats (and I cannot lie)!

For my admittedly singular tastes, the vampire bat (there are other kinds?) is as essential a herald of Halloween as the old witch, the black cat, the Jack-o-lantern, and the scarecrow. As a kid, I loved the sudden appearance of a flapping vampire bat and the bigger and more leathery the beastie the better. Take this barrel-like example from Hammer’s BRIDES OF DRACULA (1961) — it’s like a rumpy Manx with wings — but I love it, I want to hug it, I want to bring it home and ask my mom if I can keep it. I miss bats in horror movies. How did we ever get it into our heads that we could live without them? [...MORE]

Showdown – Horror Style

Almost every movie ever made that involves any kind of conflict has a showdown.  It may not be the grand finale and it may not last more than a few seconds, but showdowns are a part of dramatic structure.  They can be big, like the showdown between Shane (Alan Ladd) and Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) at the climax of Shane or small, like the showdown between R.P. McMurphy and Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when he wants to let the gang watch the World Series and loses initially (she doesn’t allow Chief Bromden’s vote) only to pull out a victory seconds later by pretending to watch it anyway.   They can come in the form of a standoff between rich young publisher and legal guardian, as in Citizen Kane, where Kane (Orson Welles) tells Thatcher (George Coulouris) that at the rate of a million dollars a year he’ll have to close this paper in… sixty years or they can come in the form of an imaginary standoff between two movie patrons (Woody Allen and Russell Horton) and a magically produced Marshall McLuhan (um, Marshall McLuhan) in Annie Hall.  But for pure bang for the buck, showdowns rarely reach the visceral heights as those produced by horror.  Here are some of my favorites.

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